You are in the archive Please visit our new homepage

The Berzin Archives

The Buddhist Archives of Dr. Alexander Berzin

Switch to the Text Version of this page. Jump to main navigation.

Home > Advanced Meditation > Kalachakra > Brochure for the Graz Kalachakra Initiation 2002

Brochure for the Graz Kalachakra Initiation 2002

Alexander Berzin

Kalachakra means “cycles of time” and is a Mahayana Buddhist teaching in the highest class of tantra. In it, the Buddha presented a system of external, internal and alternative cycles of time. The external cycles deal with the motion of the planets through the heavens and various cycles or divisions of time measured by their motion in years, months, days and so forth. The internal cycles treat the cycles of energies and breaths through the body, and these are parallel to those of the external world. The alternative cycles involve the various meditation practices of the Kalachakra system of Buddha-figures (“deities”) used to gain control over or to purify the former two cycles.

In other words, external and internal cycles of time occur due to collective and individual impulses of energy (“winds of karma”). One may experience them in either a disturbing or a nondisturbing manner, since states of mind relate closely with subtle energy. With the Kalachakra practices, one works to overcome being under the influence of uncontrollably recurring external and internal situations (samsara), such as astrological, calendrical, and biological cycles. No longer limited or disturbed by them, one is able to realize one’s fullest potential to benefit others as much as is possible.

Buddha taught The Kalachakra Tantra more than 2800 years ago in present-day Andhra Pradesh, South India. Later generations preserved the teachings in the northern land of Shambhala and reintroduced them to India in the tenth century of the modern era. From India, Kalachakra study and practice spread to Burma, the Malay Peninsula, and Indonesia, but died out in these areas by the fourteenth century. Indian masters transmitted them to Tibet several times between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, and later Tibetan masters spread them further to Manchu China, Mongolia, Siberia, and East Turkistan. At the start of the twentieth century, the last czar of Russia even commissioned a Buddhist temple in his capital, St. Petersburg.

Kalachakra has received prominent attention in the medical and astrological traditions of Tibet, Mongolia, and Central Asia. This is because the science of calculating the Tibetan calendar, a great portion of the Tibetan astronomical and astrological teachings, and a certain small portion of the Tibetan medical knowledge, particularly the formulas for making precious-gem medicines, derive from the Kalachakra literature. The Mongolian traditions of these sciences developed, in turn, from the Tibetan ones.

According to His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, the line of Dalai Lamas does not have a special relation with Kalachakra. Nevertheless, Kalachakra practice has been a favorite of the First, Second, Seventh, Eighth, and the present Fourteenth members of his line. Since the time of the Eighth Dalai Lama, its ritual and meditation practices have been a specialty of the Namgyal Monastery, the personal monastery at the Potala of the Dalai Lamas.

No restriction exists on the number of times a master may confer the Kalachakra empowerment (initiation) and His Holiness admits no special reason in offering it so frequently. His Holiness explains that he bestows it simply when people request him and the circumstances are conducive. The current Kalachakra empowerment in Graz, Austria, is the twenty-seventeenth time His Holiness has given it, and the third in Europe.

Unlike with other tantras, masters traditionally confer the Kalachakra empowerment on large crowds. Buddha first bestowed it on the king of Shambhala and his large entourage. Several centuries later, a great master in Shambhala offered it to the entire population to unite them and thus avert annihilation in the face of a threatened invasion. In this way, the Kalachakra empowerment became linked with world peace and, subsequently, its conferral has attracted more people than does any other Tibetan Buddhist event. The reason, perhaps, is that by receiving it, one establishes a special relation with Shambhala.

In keeping with the theme of “cycles of time,” periodically there occurs in history an invasion of the civilized world by barbaric hordes, which try to eliminate all possibilities for spiritual practice and growth. According to predictions, another such invasion will occur approximately 422 years in the future, and a terrible war will begin. At that time, help will come from the land of Shambhala and the barbarians will suffer defeat. The victory will herald a new golden age, in which everything will be conducive for spiritual practice, particularly of Kalachakra. All those who have received the Kalachakra empowerment will be reborn at that time on the victorious side.

Triumph over external hordes and establishment of a spiritual golden age symbolize victory over the internal barbaric forces of disturbing emotions and the subsequent attainment of enlightenment. Thus, the highest motivation for receiving the empowerment is to gain access to the Kalachakra teachings and practices now, and by means of them to achieve enlightenment in this lifetime to benefit others as much as is possible.

Not everyone who attends the empowerment will share this lofty motivation. However, as His Holiness explains, the most important feature of the empowerment is the opportunity it affords for large crowds to gather in a peaceful, friendly atmosphere and to engage in the constructive action of listening to spiritual teachings. When the ancient master of Shambhala conferred the Kalachakra empowerment on the entire population, his aim was not to convert everyone to Buddhism. He wished to encourage people of all backgrounds to reaffirm the ethical and altruistic values of their own religions or humanitarian creeds. Sincere practice of ethics and altruism is the most effective method for establishing external and internal peace.

It is undoubtedly from a distortion of the word Shambhala that Western romantic authors derived the idea of Shangrila – a Paradise on Earth. The Earth may contain some idyllic place representative of Shambhala. The journey to this fabled land, however, is a spiritual one, which takes the sojourner to a higher spiritual realm. Shambhala represents the innately joyful nature of the subtlest level of everyone’s mind, replete with the full ability to overcome problems and to realize its potentials. True help from Shambhala to overcome barbaric forces comes from within one’s heart and mind, not from outside.

The Kalachakra empowerment awakens and reinforces the innate nature of one’s heart and mind to become a Buddha and helps to purify some of the grosser obstacles that would prevent that attainment. To receive the empowerment, one needs an appropriate attitude as preparation. Therefore, teachings on the graded path to enlightenment (lam-rim) normally precede the empowerment. First, His Holiness explains refuge, namely putting the safe direction in one’s life that the Buddhas have indicated with their teachings and attainments (Dharma), and which the community of highly realized practitioners (Sangha) have attained in part. This direction is to work on oneself to overcome one’s problems and shortcomings, and to gain the full qualities that would enable one to benefit others. He further teaches about behavioral cause and effect (karma). To avoid suffering and problems, one needs to stop acting destructively; to achieve happiness, one needs to behave in a constructive manner.

Next, His Holiness explains “the three principal pathways of the mind” that one needs to develop for making spiritual progress. The first is renunciation, namely the strong determination to be free from one’s problems. Then comes bodhichitta: the altruistic wish to benefit everyone as much as is possible and, for fulfilling that aim, to overcome one’s limitations and realize all one’s potentials. Finally, one needs a correct understanding of reality (voidness) – everything is devoid of existing in impossible ways. One may imagine things to exist in an assortment of impossible manners, such as imagining that someone exists inherently as a monster, or as an enemy whom one could never love. No one, however, exists truly in those ways. As His Holiness explains, everyone may benefit from developing the three principal paths of mind, whether one intends actually to take the empowerment as a practicing Buddhist, or merely to attend as a “neutral observer.”

The Kalachakra empowerment entails a preparation day ceremony and the actual empowerment. The most important preparation is the taking of the bodhisattva and tantric vows. The vows include promising to restrain from acting, speaking, and thinking in negative ways that would prevent one from helping others fully, and pledging to restrain from behaving in ways that would damage one’s spiritual practice. All Buddhist practitioners may take the bodhisattva vows if they wish, but only those who also pledge to keep the tantric vows will actually participate in the later visualization procedures and actually receive the empowerment.

Observers are not obligated to take Buddhist vows and have no commitment from the ceremony. Nevertheless, they are welcome to witness the rest of the ritual. They need not watch passively, however, as if attending a spectacle or an nthropological event. The procedures offer many opportunities for observers to develop positive feelings and thoughts, similar to those of the full participants.

The actual empowerment involves a complex process of entering the “mandala” or symbolic world-structure of Kalachakra and receiving inside a series of empowerments analogous to the stages of human development. The empowerments purify progressively more subtle obstacles and plant, or awaken and reinforce, “seeds” for progressively more advanced levels of the practice.

The mandala constructed from colored powders for the ritual is a two-dimensional blueprint of a three-dimensional palace in which the Kalachakra Buddha-figure couple dwells. As father and mother, their union symbolizes the union of method and wisdom. The symbolic world, with its palace and surrounding grounds, contains 722 figures, representing a transfiguration and purified alternative to the manifold factors that constitute the universe and the human body. All are emanations of the spiritual master conferring the empowerment. The participants try, to the best of their abilities, to visualize and feel that their surroundings are this mandala world; that His Holiness is the central Buddha-figure Kalachakra; and that they and all the other participants transform during the ritual into a series of special, pure forms.

The visualizations requested of the participants are extremely complex. More important than clarity of detail are motivation and attitude, namely a strong determination to be free, a heart set on becoming a Buddha to benefit all, and an understanding that nothing exists in impossible ways. If, on this basis, the participants take the vows sincerely and feel with conviction that the procedures they visualize are actually occurring, they can be confident that they have received the empowerment. At the end of the ceremony, participants and observers alike offer prayers to travel the full path to enlightenment presented in The Kalachakra Tantra.